Six Days in Hanoi, Vietnam

February 3, 2012

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Tet Holiday, Old Quarter

‘Madam, Motor’… ‘Madam, Motor…’ This is how most of the Vietnamese motor-bikers in Hanoi used to approach me, trying to convince me to get on their bike for a ride for a certain amount of money. For those who didn’t experience Vietnam yet, please be advised that crossing the streets is a challenge.

The country in general and Hanoi in particular, is humming and buzzing with traffic. A steady stream of motorbikes, rickshaws and cars driving around in both directions. Not once, did I join a group of people or someone else just to cross the street, and I won’t lie if I say that sometimes I just hold my breath, praying silently I will make it safe to the other side of the street. I arrived to Hanoi at the end of January, few days after Tet Holiday and the streets of the city were even more buzzing and humming, especially during night time, when families went out for dinner, ice cream treat and some loud Karaoke.

I arrived to Hanoi planning on staying for only two days but ended up staying for longer.

One of the reasons was the place I’ve stayed. I booked a room in Hanoi Hibiscus Hotel, a family hotel, few meters away from the Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in the Old Quarter and it instantly became my ‘home away from home’ place to stay. The central location of the hotel and the friendly professional staff, made my stay much easier than in Ho Chi Min City, where I landed, which has inspired some culture shock. The area around the Cathedral was packed with young crowds, all sitting in the local cafes on plastic stools, drinking tea with lots of lemon and cracking sun-flower seeds, leaving a trail of shells on the ground. Fashionable young girls driving on their motor bikes, was a common thing to see.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Tet Holiday, Old Quarter

The variety of places to see and visit, the comfortable weather at that time of year, the great street food and the sense of tourism, made the North of Vietnam more welcoming and easier to travel.

I’ve booked an initial tour to get to know some parts of the city with Hanoi City Tours, a free tour by a local young student, who wants to improve his/hers English skills and at the same time introduce and promote their city.

I chose to have my guided tour in the Old Quarter or what called the ’36 Streets’, a labyrinth of old streets, evolved in the 13th century when artisan guilds were concentrated along each of the original 36 lanes, and clustered by speciality; Silver street (where you can find silver jewelry as well as gravestones), Silk Street, Mats Street, Paper Street, etc. Each of the 36 craft guilds once had its own communal house, however, like most of the quarter’s pagoda and temples, they were shut down during the communist takeover and transformed into schools or public housing.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Old Quarter.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Old Quarter

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Old Quarter

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Old Quarter

In the outskirts of the Old Quarter, there is the Temple of Literature (located to the south of the Fine Arts Museum at Pho Quoc Tu Giam street). When it was first built, it was the school of the Elite of the Nation and Vietnam’s first University. After passing exams at the local levels, scholars who wanted to become seniors came here to study for rigorous examinations. It got its name ‘Temple of Literature’ at the beginning of the 19th century, and now serves as a place where people and mostly students come and write a prayer and a wish and ask for success in their studies. If you want to be like the locals, have your wish or prayer written by one of the calligraphers outside the temple. I visited the temple one afternoon, during the last days of Tet Holiday. It was packed with young students who came by, all excited and anxious when there was a special ceremony, all praying for a good luck in the up coming year. The Temple is a homage to Confucius, peaceful and spiritual, arranged in a series of a linked courtyards. I was walking past tone-stealed shaped like turtles, overlooking the students praying with a great intention. (Felt so relieved I don’t need to pray for my next school year)

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Temple of Literature

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Temple of Literature

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Temple of Literature

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Temple of Literature

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel, Temple of Literature

One of the most beautiful pagodas that exists in Hanoi is the Tran Quoc Pagoda, which is located beside the Red River and perhaps is the oldest one in Hanoi, dated from the year of 1639. I was there one afternoon watching the crowd lighting perfumed incense and giving fruits and fake money to their Gods, just at the last days of Tet Holiday.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Tran Quac Pagoda

Hanoi, Vietnam, Tran Quac Pagoda

Hanoi, Vietnam, Tran Quac Pagoda

Hanoi, Vietnam, Tran Quac Pagoda

While you are in the area, you can walk along the river towards the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace near by. Make sure to check the opening hours in advance and the strict rules of the mausoleum. By the time I got there by noon, it was already closed. Some of my friends told me I didn’t miss a thing though….

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel

Vietnam, Hanoi, Travel

Even though I didn’t plan it, I paid a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the infamous Hanoi Hilton. The prison was used by the French people who imprisoned, tortured and guillotined Vietnamese revolutionaries, and later on was used by the Vietnamese who prisoned American pilots, including the Republican senator John McCain. One can easily notice the hinted propaganda by the way the Vietnamese represent themselves as considerate to the American needs. As scary as it is, I really recommend to visit this site.

From Hanoi, it is very easy to book a day-or two day trips to Halong Bay or book a midnight train to Sapa in the North. April is a great time to visit Vietnam. The weather is comfortable, the trees are blooming and the food is always great.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Travel

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  • Reply John April 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    How safe did you feel in Vietnam? Did you have any problems?

    • Reply Sivan April 28, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      Hi John,
      I felt quite safe in Vietnam, even though I traveled by myself. Of course, I was being careful and avoided walking alone in dark alleys.
      But it is such a great and beautiful country.

  • Reply minder December 1, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Very nice pictures! And a good read on Hanoi. Thanks

  • Reply Hanoi Places December 2, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Could I Copy this Blog to our website , please?

    • Reply Sivan December 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Only if you attach a link to the blog.

      • Reply Hanoi Places December 3, 2013 at 2:51 am

        Sure i will attach link to the blog, thanks

  • Reply cathy @ ma vie trouvee December 5, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Gorgeous photos of Hanoi! I have been several times and will be there for a week next week – was looking for things to do and your beautiful blog popped up. I look forward to exploring more of your images and your blog. Cheers from Singapore!

    • Reply Sivan December 5, 2013 at 6:30 am

      Thank you Cathy. I just checked your blog. So beautiful and you are so lucky to travel for these amazing places

  • Reply Abby_sf December 13, 2013 at 6:53 am

    I was checking lot of blog site about Hanoi and lucky enough I found your blog,, I’ll be visiting Hanoi march next year and your site is such a big help for me to start doing my DIY tour,,,,any other recommendation beside what you have mention in your site,,,,thanks

    • Reply Sivan December 13, 2013 at 7:09 am

      My Pleasure. Have an amazing time

  • Reply Ian December 31, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Beautiful photos! I can not stop to read till the end of your post. and I think it can really help others visitors for the first time to visit Vietnam. I would like to share it. Counld I Copy your post and photos to our blog at, please!
    Absolutely with a link back to your blog and your name under each of photo.
    Thank you Sivan!

    • Reply Sivan January 2, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      I see you already did :-)

  • Reply DIANA GIRIM January 17, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Hi, I’m so glad that I found your blog. It is so helpful. I feel like I want to go to Hanoi right away! LOL…
    Anyway, I will visit Hanoi in July. I can’t wait for that moment.
    Thanks from Malaysia :)

    • Reply Sivan January 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

      Thanks Diana,
      Lucky you go. Have fun

  • Reply Pham Khoi January 21, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Very nice photos and special conners about my country, thanks Sivan very much. I think that i will follow your blog from right now :)

    • Reply Sivan January 21, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Thank You for following

  • Reply jaz March 4, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Wow! Your pictures are stunning. I went to Hanoi a few months ago and it’s always a discovery to see pictures taken from a different perspective. I thought I’d share with you a Vlog I just discovered on tips to Hanoi:
    You’re both give great insights.

    • Reply Sivan March 4, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      Thank You Jazmine

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